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Full text of "1868 A Strange Christmas Game by Mrs. J. H. Riddell The Broadway Annual"

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391 


%  Strange  <J|rhtntas  dame. 

BT  MBS.  J.  H.  BIDDELL. 

% 

When,  through  the  death  of  a  distant  relative,  I,  John  Lester, 
succeeded  to  the  Martingdale  Estate,  there  could  not  have  been  found 
in  the  length  and  breadth  of  England  a  happier  pair  than  myself  and 
my  only  sister  Clare. 

We  were  not  such  utter  hypocrites  as  to  affect  sorrow  for  the  loss 
of  our  kinsman,  Paul  Lester,  a  man  we  had  never  seen,  of  whom  we 
had  heard  but  little,  and  that  little  unfavourable,  at  whose  hands  we 
had  never  received  a  single  benefit — who  was,  in  short,  as  great  a 
stranger  to  ns  as  the  then  Prime  Minister,  the  Emperor  of  Russia, 
or  any  other  human  being  utterly  removed  from  our  extremely  humble 
sphere  of  life. 

His  loss  was  very  certainly  our  gain.  His  death  represented  to  us, 
not  a  dreary  parting  from  one  long  loved  and  highly  honoured,  but  the 
accession  of  lands,  houses,  consideration,  wealth,  to  myself — John 
Lester,  Esquire,  Martingdale,  Bedfordshire :  whilom,  Jack  Lester, 
artist  and  second-floor  lodger  at  32,  Great  Smith  Street,  Bloomsbury. 

Not  that  Martingdale  was  much  of  an  estate  as  county  properties  go. 
The  Lesters  who  had  succeeded  to  that  domain  from  time  to  time  during 
the  course  of  a  few  hundred  years,  could  by  no  stretch  of  courtesy  have 
been  called  prudent  men.  In  regard  of  their  posterity  they  were, 
indeed,  scarcely  honest,  for  they  parted  with  manors  and  farms,  with 
common  rights  and  advowsons,  in  a  manner  at  once  so  baronial  and  so 
unbus  iness-like,  that  Martingdale  at  length  in  the  hands  of  Jeremy 
Lester,  the  last  resident  owner,  melted  to  a  mere  little  dot  in  the  map 
of  Bedfordshire. 

Concerning  this  Jeremy  Lester  there  was  a  mystery.  No  man 
could  say  what  had  become  of  him.  He  was  in  the  oak  parlour  at 
Martingdale  one  Christmas-eve,  and  before  the  next  morning  he  had 
disappeared — to  reappear  in  the  flesh  no  more. 

Over  night,  one  Mr.  Warley,  a  great  friend  and  boon  companion  of 
Jeremy’s,  had  sat  playing  cards  with  him  until  after  twelve  o’clock 
chimed,  then  he  took  leave  of  his  host  and  rode  home  under  the 
moonlight.  After  that,  no  person,  as  far  as  could  be  ascertained,  ever 
saw  Jeremy  Lester  alive. 


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%  Strange  Cjjrtetmas  0ame. 


His  ways  of  life  had  not  been  either  the  most  regular,  or  the  most 
respectable,  and  it  was  not  until  a  new  year  had  come  in  without  any 
tidings  of  his  whereabouts  reaching  the  house,  that  his  servants 
became  seriously  alarmed  concerning  his  absence. 

Then  inquiries  were  set  on  foot  concerning  him — inquiries  which 
grew  more  urgent  as  weeks  and  months  passed  by  without  the 
slightest  clue  being  obtained  as  to  his  whereabouts.  Rewards  were 
offered,  advertisements  inserted,  but  still  Jeremy  made  no  sign ;  and  so 
in  course  of  time  the  heir-at-law,  Paul  Lester,  took  possession  of  the 
house,  and  went  down  to  spend  the  summer  months  at  Martingdale  with 
his  rich  wife,  and  her  four  children  by  a  first  husband.  Paul  Lester 
was  a  barrister — an  over- worked  barrister,  who,  every  one  supposed 
would  be  glad  enough  to  leave  the  bar  and  settle  at  Martingdale,  where 
his  wife’s  money  and  the  fortune  he  had  accumulated  could  not  have 
failed  to  give  him  a  good  standing  even  among  the  neighbouring 
county  families ;  and  perhaps  it  was  with  some  such  intention  that  he 
went  down  into  Bedfordshire. 

If  this  were  so,  however,  he  speedily  changed  his  mind,  for  with  the 
January  snows  he  returned  to  London,  let  off  the  land  surrounding  the 
house,  shut  up  the  Hall,  put  in  a  care-taker,  and  never  troubled 
himself  further  about  his  ancestral  seat. 

Time  went  on,  and  people  began  to  say  the  house  was  haunted, 
that  Paul  Lester  had  “  seen  something,”  and  so  forth — all  which  stories 
were  duly  repeated  for  our  benefit,  when,  forty-one  years  alter  the 
disappearance  of  Jeremy  Lester,  Clare  and  I  went  down  to  inspect  our 
inheritance. 

I  say  “  our,”  because  Clare  had  stuck  bravely  to  me  in  poverty — 
grinding  poverty,  and  prosperity  was  not  going  to  part  us  now.  What 
was  mine  was  hers,  and  that  she  knew,  God  bless  her,  without  my 
needing  to  tell  her  so. 

The  transition  from  rigid  economy  to  comparative  wealth,  was  in 
our  case  the  more  delightful  also,  because  we  had  not  in  the  least  degree 
anticipated  it.  We  never  expected  Paul  Lester’s  shoes  to  come  to  us, 
and  accordingly  it  was  not  upon  our  consciences  that  we  had  ever  in 
our  dreariest  moods  wished  him  dead. 

Had  he  made  a  will,  no  doubt  we  never  should  have  gone  to 
Martingdale,  and  I,  consequently,  never  written  this  story ;  but,  luckily 
Sot  us,  he  died  intestate,  and  the  Bedfordshire  property  came  to  me. 

As  for  his  fortune,  he  had  spent  it  in  travelling,  and  in  giving  great 
entertainments  at  his  grand  house  in  Portman  Square.  Concerning 


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his  effects,  Mrs.  Lester  and  I  came  to  a  very  amicable  arrangement,  and 
she  did  me  the  honour  of  inviting  me  to  call  upon  her  occasionally,  and, 
as  I  heard,  spoke  of  me  as  a  very  worthy  and  presentable  yonng  man 
“for  my  station,”  which,  of  coarse,  coming  from  so  good  an  authority, 
was  gratifying.  Moreover,  she  asked  me  if  I  intended  residing  at  Mar* 
tingdale,  and  on  my  replying  in  the  affirmative,  hoped  I  should  like  it. 

It  struck  me  at  the  time  that  there  was  a  certain  significance  in  her 
tone,  and  when  I  went  down  to  Martingdale  and  heard  the  absurd 
stories  which  were  afloat  concerning  the  house  being  haunted,  I  felt 
confident  that  if  Mrs.  Lester  had  hoped  much,  she  feared  more. 

People  said  Mr.  Jeremy  “  walked  ”  at  Martingdale.  He  had  been 
seen,  it  was  averred,  by  poachers,  by  gamekeepers,  by  children  who 
had  come  to  use  the  park  as  a  near  cut  to  school,  by  lovers  who 
kept  their  tryst  under  the  elms  and  beeches. 

As  for  the  care-taker  and  his  wife,  the  third  in  residence  since 
Jeremy  Lester’s  disappearance,  the  man  gravely  shook  his  head  when 
questioned,  while  the  woman  stated  that  wild  horses,  or  even  wealth 
untold,  should  not  draw  her  into  the  red  bed-room,  nor  into  the  oak 
parlour,  after  dark. 

“  I  have  heard  my  mother  tell,  sir — it  was  her  as  followed  old  Mrs. 
Reynolds,  the  first  care-taker — how  there  were  things  went  on  in  those 
self  same  rooms  as  might  make  any  Christian’s  hair  stand  on  end.  Such 
stamping,  and  swearing,  and  knocking  about  of  furniture ;  and  then 
tramp,  tramp,  up  tbe  great  staircase,  and  along  the  corridor  and  so 
into  the  red  bed-room,  and  then  bang,  and  tramp,  tramp  again.  They 
do  say,  sir,  Mr.  Paul  Lester  met  him  once,  and  from  that  time  the  oak 
parlour  has  never  been  opened.  I  never  was  inside  it  myself.” 

Upon  hearing  which  fact,  the  first  thing  I  did  was  to  proceed  to  the 
oak  parlour,  open  the  shutters,  and  let  the  August  sun  stream  in  upon 
the  haunted  chamber.  It  was  an  old-fashioned,  plainly  furnished 
apartment,  with  a  large  table  in  the  centre,  a  smaller  in  a  recess  by 
the  fire-place,  chairs  ranged  against  the  walls,  and  a  dusty  moth-eaten 
carpet  on  the  floor.  There  were  dogs  on  the  hearth,  broken  and  rusty ; 
there  was  a  brass  fender,  tarnished  and  battered ;  a  picture  of  some 
sea-fight  over  the  mantel-piece,  while  another  work  of  art  about  equal  in 
merit  hung  between  the  windows.  Altogether,  an  utterly  prosaic  and 
yet  not  uncheerful  apartment,  from  out  of  which  the  ghosts  flitted  as 
soon  as  daylight  was  let  into  it,  and  which  I  proposed,  as  soon  as  I 
“felt  my  feet,”  to  re-decorate,  re-fumish,  and  convert  into  a  pleasant 
morning-room.  I  was  still  under  thirty,  but  I  had  learned  prudence  in 


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that  very  good  school,  Necessity ;  and  it  was  not  my  intention  to  spend 
much  money  until  I  ascertained  for  certain  what  were  the  actual  revenues 
derivable  from  the  lands  still  belonging  to  the  Martingdale  estates,  and 
the  charges  upon  them.  In  fact,  I  wanted  to  know  what  I  was  worth 
before  committing  myself  to  any  great  extravagance,  and  the  place 
had  for  so  long  a  time  been  neglected,  that  I  experienced  some  difficulty 
in  arriving  at  the  state  of  my  real  income. 

But  in  the  meanwhile,  Clare  and  I  found  great  enjoyment  in  explor¬ 
ing  every  nook  and  corner  of  our  domain,  in  turning  over  the  contents 
of  old  chests  and  cupboards,  in  examining  the  faces  of  our  ancestors 
looking  down  on  us  from  the  walls,  in  walking  through  the  neglected 
gardens,  full  of  weeds,  overgrown  with  shruhs  and  birdweed,  where  the 
boxwood  was  eighteen  inches  high,  and  the  shoots  of  the  rose-trees 
yards  long.  I  have  put  the  place  in  order  since  then,  there  is  no 
grass  on  the  paths,  there  are  no  trailing  brambles  over  the  ground,  the 
hedges  have  been  cut  and  trimmed,  and  the  trees  pruned,  and  the  box¬ 
wood  clipped;  but  I  often  say  now-a-days  that  spite  of  all  my 
improvements,  or  rather  in  consequence  of  them,  Martingdale  does  not 
look  one  half  so  pretty  as  it  did  in  its  pristine  state  of  uncivilized 
picturesqueness. 

Although  1  determined  not  to  commence  repairing  and  decorating 
the  house  till  better  informed  concerning  the  rental  of  Martingdale,  still 
the  Btate  of  my  finances  was  so  far  satisfactory  that  Clare  and  I  decided  on 
going  abroad  and  take  our  long-talked-of  holiday  before  the  fine  weather 
was  past.  We  could  not  tell  what  a  year  might  bring  forth,  as  Clare 
sagely  remarked ;  it  was  wise  to  take  our  pleasure  while  we  could ;  and 
accordingly,  before  the  end  of  August  arrived  we  were  wandering  about 
the  continent,  loitering  at  Rouen,  visiting  the  galleries  in  Paris,  and 
talking  of  extending  our  one  month  of  enjoyment  to  three.  What 
decided  me  on  this  course  was  the  circumstance  of  our  becoming 
acquainted  with  an  English  family  who  intended  wintering  in  Borne. 
We  met  accidentally,  hut  discovering  we  were  near  neighbours  in 
England — in  fact,  that  Mr.  Cronson’s  property  lay  close  beside  Marting¬ 
dale — the  slight  acquaintance  soon  ripened  into  intimacy,  and  ere  long 
we  were  travelling  in  company. 

From  the  first,  Clare  did  not  much  like  this  arrangement.  There  was 
“  a  little  girl  ”  in  England  she  wanted  me  to  marry,  and  Mr.  Cronson 
had  a  daughter  who  certainly  was  both  handsome  and  attractive.  The 
little  girl  had  not  despised  John  Lester,  artist,  while  Miss  Cronson 
indisputably  set  her  cap  at  John  Lester  of  Martingdale,  and  would  have 


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turned  away  her  pretty  face  from  a  poor  man’s  admiring  gaze — all  this 
I  can  see  plainly  enongh  now,  bnt  I  was  blind  then  and  should  have 
proposed  for  Marybel — that  was  her  name — before  the  winter  was 
over,  had  news  not  suddenly  arrived  of  the  illness  of  Mrs.  Cronson, 
senior.  In  a  moment  the  programme  was  changed  ;  our  pleasant  days 
of  foreign  travel  were  at  an  end.  The  Cronsons  packed  up  and  departed, 
while  Clare  and  I  returned  more  slowly  to  England,  a  little  out  of 
humour,  it  must  be  confessed,  with  each  other. 

It  was  the  middle  of  November  when  we  arrived  at  Martingdale,  and 
found  the  place  anything  but  romantic  or  pleasant.  The  walks  were 
wet  and  sodden,  the  trees  were  leafless,  there  were  no  flowers  save  a 
few  late  pink  roses  blooming  in  the  garden. 

It  had  been  a  wet  season,  and  the  place  looked  miserable.  Clare 
would  not  ask  Alice  down  to  keep  her  company  in  the  winter  months, 
as  she  had  intended ;  and  for  myself,  the  Cronsons  were  still  absent 
in  Norfolk,  where  they  meant  to  spend  Christmas  with  old  Mrs. 
Cronson,  now  recovered. 

Altogether,  Martingdale  seemed  dreary  enough,  and  the  ghost 
stories  we  had  laughed  at  while  sunshine  flooded  the  rooms,  became 
less  unreal,  when  we  had  nothing  but  blazing  fires  and  wax  candles 
to  dispel  the  gloom.  They  became  more  real  also  when  servant  after 
servant  left  us  to  seek  situations  elsewhere;  when  “noises”  grew 
freqnent  in  the  house ;  when  we  ourselves,  Clare  and  I,  with  our  own 
ears  heard  the  tramp,  tramp,  the  banging  and  the  clattering  which 
had  been  described  to  us. 

My  dear  reader,  you  doubtless  are  utterly  free  from  superstitious  fan* 
cies.  You  pooh-pooh  the  existence  of  ghosts,  and  “  only  wish  you  could 
find  a  haunted  house  in  which  to  spend  a  night,”  which  is  all  very  brave 
and  praiseworthy,  but  wait  till  you  are  left  in  a  dreary,  desolate  old 
country  mansion,  filled  with  the  most  unaccountable  sounds,  without 
a  servant,  with  no  one  save  an  old  care-taker  and  his  wife,  who,  living 
at  the  extremest  end  of  the  building,  heard  nothing  of  the  tramp, 
tramp,  bang,  bang,  going  on  at  all  hours  of  the  night. 

At  first  I  imagined  the  noises  were  produced  by  some  evil-disposed 
persons,  who  wished,  for  purposes  of  their  own,  to  keep  the  house 
uninhabited ;  but  by  degrees  Clare  and  I  came  to  the  conclusion  the 
visitation  must  be  supernatural,  and  Martingdale  by  consequence 
untenantable.  Still  being  practical  people,  and  unlike  our  prede¬ 
cessors,  not  having  money  to  live  where  and  how  we  liked,  we  decided 
to  watch  and  see  whether  we  could  trace  any  human  influence  in  the 


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matter.  If  not,  it  was  agreed  we  were  to  pull  down  the  right  wing 
of  the  house  and  the  principal  staircase. 

For  nights  and  nights  we  sat  up  till  two  or  three  o’clock  in  the 
morning,  Clare  engaged  in  needlework,  I  reading,  with  a  revolver 
lying  on  the  table  beside  me ;  bnt  nothing,  neither  sound  nor  appear- 
anoe  rewarded  our  vigil. 

This  confirmed  my  first  idea  that  the  sounds  were  not  supernatural ; 
but  just  to  test  the  matter,  I  determined  on  Christmas-eve,  the  anni¬ 
versary  of  Mr.  Jeremy  Lester’s  disappearance,  to  keep  watch  by 
myself  in  the  red  bed-chamber.  Even  to  Clare  I  never  mentioned  my 
intention. 

About  ten,  tired  out  with  our  previous  vigils,  we  each  retired  to 
rest.  Somewhat  ostentatiously,  perhaps,  I  noisily  shut  the  door  of 
my  room,  and  when  I  opened  it  half-an-hour  afterwards,  no  mouse 
could  have  pursued  its  way  along  the  corridor  with  greater  silence 
and  caution  than  myself. 

Quite  in  the  dark  I  sat  in  the  red  room.  For  over  an  hour  I 
might  as  well  have  been  in  my  grave  for  anything  I  could  see 
in  the  apartment ;  but  at  the  end  of  that  time  the  moon  rose  and 
cast  strange  lights  across  the  floor  and  upon  the  wall  of  the  haunted 
chamber. 

Hitherto  I  had  kept  my  watch  opposite  the  window,  now  I 
changed  my  place  to  a  corner  near  the  door,  where  I  was  shaded 
from  observation  by  the  heavy  hangings  of  the  bed,  and  an  antique 
wardrobe. 

Still  I  sat  on,  but  still  no  sound  broke  the  silence.  I  was  weary 
with  many  nights’  watching,  and  tired  of  my  solitary  vigil,  I  dropped 
at  last  into  a  slumber  from  which  I  was  awakened  by  hearing  the  door 
softly  opened. 

“John,”  said  my  sister,  almost  in  a  whisper;  “John,  are  yon 
here  ?” 

“  Yes,  Clare,”  I  answered ;  “  but  what  are  you  doing  up  at  this 
hour?” 

“  Come  downstairs,”  she  replied ;  “  they  are  in  the  oak  parlour.” 

I  did  not  need  any  explanation  as  to  whom  she  meant,  but  crept 
downstairs  after  her,  warned  by  an  uplifted  hand  of  the  necessity  for 
silence  and  caution. 

By  the  door — by  the  open  door  of  the  oak  parlour,  she  paused, 
and  we  both  looked  in. 

There  was  the  room  we  left  in  darkness  overnight,  with  a  bright 


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'wood  fire  Haring  on  the  hearth,  candles  on  the  chimney-piece,  the 
small  table  palled  oat  from  its  accustomed  corner,  and  two  men 
seated  beside  it,  playing  at  cribbage. 

We  could  see  the  face  of  the  younger  player;  it  was  that  of  a 
man  of  about  five- and- twenty,  of  a  man  who  had  lived  hard  and 
wickedly;  who  had  wasted  his  substance  and  his  health;  who  had 
been  while  in  the  flesh  Jeremy  Lester.  It  would  be  difficult  for  me  to 
say  how  I  knew  this,  how  in  a  moment  I  identified  the  features  of  the 
player  with  those  of  tho  man  who  had  been  missing  for  forty-one 
years — forty-one  years  that  very  night.  He  was  dressed  in  the 
costume  of  a  byegone  period ;  his  hair  was  powdered,  and  round  his 
wrists  there  were  ruffles  of  lace. 

He  looked  like  one  who,  having  come  from  some  great  party,  had 
sat  down  after  his  return  home  to  play  at  cards  with  an  intimate 
friend.  On  his  little  finger  there  sparkled  a  ring,  in  the  front  of 
his  shirt  there  gleamed  a  valuable  diamond.  There  were  diamond 
buckles  in  his  shoes,  and,  according  to  the  fashion  of  his  time,  he 
wore  knee-breeclies  and  silk  stockings,  which  showed  off  advan¬ 
tageously  the  shape  of  a  remarkably  good  leg  and  ankle. 

He  sat  opposite  to  the  door,  but  never  once  lifted  his  eyes 
to  it.  His  attention  seemed  concentrated  on  the  cards. 

For  a  time  there  was  utter  silence  in  the  room,  broken  only  by  the 
momentous  counting  of  the  game. 

In  the  doorway  we  stood,  holding  onr  breath,  terrified  and  yet 
fascinated  by  the  scene  which  was  being  acted  before  ns. 

The  ashes  dropped  on  the  hearth  softly  and  like  the  snow ;  we 
could  hear  the  rustle  of  the  cards  as  they  were  dealt  out  and  fell 
upon  the  table ;  we  listened  to  the  count — fifteen-one,  fifteen-two,  and 
so  forth, — but  there  was  no  other  word  spoken  till  at  length  the  player, 
whose  face  we  could  not  see,  exclaimed,  “  I  win ;  the  game  is  mine.” 

Then  his  opponent  took  up  the  cards,  sorted  them  over  negligently 
in  his  hand,  put  them  dose  together,  and  flung  the  whole  pack 
in  his  guest’s  face,  exclaiming,  “  Cheat ;  liar ;  take  that.” 

There  was  a  bustle  and  confusion — a  flinging  over  of  chairs,  and 
fierce  gesticulation,  and  such  a  noise  of  passionate  voices  mingling, 
that  we  could  not  hear  a  sentence  which  was  uttered. 

All  at  once,  however,  Jeremy  Lester  strode  out  of  the  room  in 
so  great  a  hurry  that  he  almost  touched  us  where  we  stood ;  out  of  the 
room,  and  tramp,  tramp  up  the  staircase  to  the  red  room,  whence  ho 
descended  in  a  few  minutes  with  a  couple  of  rapiers  under  bis  arm. 


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8  Strange  Cfjristmas  ©ante* 

When  he  re-entered  the  room  he  gave,  as  it  seemed  to  ns,  the  other 
man  his  choice  of  the  weapons,  and  then  he  flung  open  the  window, 
and  after  ceremoniously  giving  place  for  hia  opponent  to  pass  oat 
first,  he  walked  forth  into  the  night-air,  Clare  and  I  following. 

We  went  through  the  garden  and  down  a  narrow  winding  walk  to 
a  smooth  piece  of  turf  sheltered  from  the  north  by  a  plantation  of  young 
fir-trees.  It  was  a  bright  moonlight  night  by  thin  time,  and  we  could 
distinctly  see  Jeremy  Lester  measuring  off  the  ground. 

“  When  you  say  4  three,’  ”  he  said  at  last  to  the  man  whose  back 
was  still  towards  us.  They  had  drawn  lots  for  the  ground,  and  the  lot 
had  fallen  against  Mr.  Lester.  He  stood  thus  with  thp  moonbeams 
falling  full  upon  him,  and  a  handsomer  fellow  I  would  never  desire  to 
behold. 

44  One,”  began  the  other ;  44  two,”  and  before  our  kinsman  had  the 
slightest  suspicion  of  his  design,  he  was  upon  him,  and  his  rapier  through 
Jeremy  Lester’s  breast.  At  the  sight  of  that  cowardly  treachery,  Clare 
screamed  aloud.  In  a  moment  the  combatants  had  disappeared,  the 
moon  was  obscured  behind  a  cloud,  and  we  were  standing  in  the 
shadow  of  the  fir-plantation,  shivering  with  cold  and  terror. 

But  we  knew  at  last  what  had  become  of  the  late  owner  of  Marting- 
dale,  that  he  had  fallen,  not  in  fair  fight,  but  foully  murdered  by  a  false 
friend. 

When  late  on  Christmas  morning  I  awoke,  it  was  to  see  a  white 
world,  to  behold  the  ground,  and  trees,  and  shrubs  all  laden  and 
covered  with  snow.  There  was  snow  everywhere,  such  snow  as  no 
person  could  remember  having  fallen  for  forty-one  years. 

44  It  was  on  just  such  a  Christmas  as  *hi«  that  Mr.  Jeremy  dis¬ 
appeared,”  remarked  the  old  sexton  to  my  sister  who  had  insisted  on 
dragging  me  through  the  snow  to  church,  whereupon  Clare  fainted 
away  and  was  carried  into  the  vestry,  where  I  made  a  full  confession 
to  the  Vicar  of  all  we  had  beheld  the  previous  night. 

At  first  that  worthy  individual  rather  inclined  to  treat  the  matter 
lightly,  but  when,  a  fortnight  after,  the  snow  melted  away  and  the 
fir-plantation  came  to  be  examined,  he  confessed  there  might  be 
more  things  in  heaven  and  earth  than  his  limited  philosophy  had 
dreamed  of. 

In  a  little  clear  space  just  within  the  plantation,  Jeremy  Lester’s 
body  was  found.  We  knew  it  by  the  ring  and  the  diamond  buckles, 
and  the  sparkling  breast-pin ;  and  Mr.  Cronson,  who  in  his  capacity  as 


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&  Strange  Christmas  ®ame.  399 

magistrate  came  over  to  inspect  these  relics,  was  visibly  perturbed  at 
my  narrative. 

“  Pray,  Mr.  Lester,  did  you  in  your  dream  see  the  face  of — of  the 
gentleman — your  kinsman’s  opponent  ?” 

“  No,”  I  answered,  “  he  sat  and  stood  with  his  back  to  us  all  the 
time.” 

“  There  is  nothing  more,  of  course,  to  be  done  in  the  matter,” 
observed  Mr.  Cronson. 

“Nothing,”  I  replied;  and  there  the  affair  would  doubtless  have  termi¬ 
nated,  but  that  a  few  days  afterwards  when  we  were  dining  at  Cronson 
Park,  Clare  all  of  a  sudden  dropped  the  glass  of  water  she  was  carrying 
to  her  lips,  and  exclaiming,  “  Look,  John,  there  he  is !”  rose  from  her 
seat,  and  with  a  face  as  white  as  the  table-cloth,  pointed  to  a  portrait 
hanging  on  the  wall. 

“  I  saw  him  for  an  instant  when  he  turned  his  head  towards  the 
door  as  Jeremy  Lester  left  it,”  she  explained ;  “  that  is  he.” 

Of  what  followed  after  this  identification  I  have  only  the  vaguest 
recollection.  Servants  rushed  hither  and  thither;  Mrs.  Cronson 
dropped  off  her  chair  into  hysterics ;  the  young  ladies  gathered  round 
their  mamma;  Mr.  Cronson,  trembling  like  one  in  an  ague  fit,  at¬ 
tempted  Borne  kind  of  an  explanation,  while  Clare  kept  praying  to  be 
taken  away — only  to  be  taken  away. 

I  took  her  away,  not  merely  from  Cronsop  Park  but  from  Martingdale. 
Before  we  left  the  latter  place,  however,  I  had  an  interview  with  Mr. 
Cronson,  who  said  the  portrait  Clare  had  identified  was  that  of  his 
wife’s  father,  the  last  person  who  saw  Jeremy  Lester  alive. 

“He  is  an  old  man  now,”  finished  Mr.  Cronson,  “a  man  of  over 
eighty,  who  has  confessed  everything  to  me.  You  won’t  bring  further 
sorrow  and  disgrace  upon  us  by  making  this  matter  public  ?” 

I  promised  him  I  would  keep  silence,  but  the  story  gradually  oozed 
out,  and  the  Cronsons  left  the  country. 

My  sister  never  returned  to  Martingdale ;  she  xnarrried  and  is  living 
in  London.  Though  I  assure  her  there  are  no  strange  noises  now  in 
my  house,  she  will  not  visit  Bedfordshire,  where  the  “  little  girl  ” 
she  wanted  me  so  long  ago  to  “  think  of  seriously,”  is  now  my  wife  and 
the  mother  of  my  children. 


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